Angela was asleep. It had been a long day. Somehow, midway through the fireworks, she had fallen asleep in her father’s lap.
She had been worried about the loudness of it all week, so her dad had brought his hearing protection home from the construction site where he worked to guard her ears.
The big, orange headgear almost swallowed her face whole, but it worked.
Inside the protection of that soundproof helmet and snuggled into Dad’s hard and tanned forearms, Angela began to feel sleepy and nodded right off.
Maybe it was the four hot dogs she had consumed throughout the day. Maybe it was the playing and swimming with all her cousins that wore her out.
It might have even been because there, with Dad, was the first time she had sat down since her excited, dancing feet hit the floor that Fourth of July morning.
Whatever it was, she had now earned the rest that children and their carefree minds deserve.
So while Angela slept and the sky provided light from above, Angela’s mom put the food back in the baskets and coolers. She rolled up the towels and blankets and set all of this on the wagon.
She waved silent goodbyes to the assorted aunts, uncles and cousins scattered all over the lawn. Dad stood with Angie over his shoulder, and the three of them started to pick their way through the patchwork quilt of humanity stretched across the park with eyes gazing upward.
Angela was laid into the back seat and the trunk was loaded. By leaving before the show was over, there was no traffic and the little family was home in 15 minutes.
As they got out of the car, they could hear the distant thunder of the “grand finales” taking place in neighboring towns. The air was cooler, but still warm from a Midwest summer July day.
Mom keyed into the house and drew back Angie’s blankets and Dad, carrying her behind, laid her down, turned on the overhead fan and kissed her lightly enough that she didn’t awaken.
He descended the steps, emptied the trunk and, as his wife emptied the coolers and baskets, he took the dog into the back yard for a final bathroom visit before “lights out.”
Chelsea, their yellow Labrador, seemed grateful for the security she felt when everyone was home as she disappeared deep into the yard for some privacy. Poor old girl never did like that uneasy feeling she got when the skies lit up and loud unexpected noises randomly occurred every July.
As he sat at the picnic table, Dad heard the screen door slam and his beautiful wife came around the corner holding the last glass of lemonade from the thermos they had almost drained that day.
She was shoeless as always, and he couldn’t believe how completely pregnant she looked from the front and how completely NOT pregnant she looked from the back. It simply looked like she’d swallowed a basketball.
Her healthy, lean metabolism had brought forth such a beautiful baby with Angela that he couldn’t wait to see what her new little sister would look like.
Having heard that it was to be another girl, the guys at work had been teasing him about his inability to create a boy. He smiled and took their teasing, but deep inside was happy to have another girl.
He liked the protective feeling he had watching over a house full of girls–his girls. He was their hero all the time. He considered it an honor.
On the winter nights, lying on his back in front of the fireplace, Angie would curl into one of Dad’s arms and his wife into the other. He would let his limbs tingle and “fall asleep” before ever thinking about disturbing their rest. The radio would play softly as the snow fell outside.
Yeah, another little girl would be just fine with him.
His wife drew a long sip from the cup and handed it to him. It was still ice cold and he drained it. She sat next to him and leaned on his shoulder. No words were spoken. No words were needed.
Chelsea emerged from the back yard, tail wagging. The crickets chirped and the evening began to grow still. Now and then a bottle rocket would sing its passing song; the leftovers of the day making a final run before the “back to school” ads began tomorrow.
He had reluctantly taken tomorrow off, although it was a weekday, but he wanted just a little more time with the family before going back to the six days on/one day off grind he had been putting in since the new job had offered all this overtime.
The papers were filled with stories of people losing jobs and others struggling to find work, so he did not take his good fortune lightly. He put his arm around his bride of five years and they ambled back to the house, dog in tow.
He locked the doors and filled the dog’s water dish as his wife headed up the stairs. He showered and tiptoed into the bedroom, as he knew she would be out cold and indeed she was. He tried not to disturb her as he covered her with a blanket.
Feeling a bit of a second wind, he shuffled into the den and sat down at the desk. He rifled through the stack of bills and sighed, knowing he could cover them all but there wouldn’t be much left over.
He turned back and looked into his moonlit living room. His whole world was within these four walls.
Right over there, Angela had taken her first steps.
And there was the mantle they had refinished when they first bought the place as newlyweds; must have had five coats of different colored paint that had to come off before that natural wood grain came out.
And the pictures, Angie’s artwork, Chelsea curled up in the corner–simply a conglomeration that could only be called “home.”
He smiled, turned off the desk light and bowed his head. He thanked God for giving him this day and all the others before it. He counted his many blessings and knew deep inside he had even more of those blessings that he himself probably didn’t even realize.
Perhaps this life and its challenges were troubling at times. Maybe others had it better than he, but my goodness, how many had it so much worse.
He thought about the words attributed to former president Abraham Lincoln: “A man is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be,” and he decided right there and then he was pretty darn happy.
He considered it almost a sense of duty to his family and his country to put on the best face possible moving forward as a proud and positive citizen in the greatest country in the world.
There on the evening of the Fourth of July, his country’s birthday, he renewed his dedication by vowing not to knock any team he is on. The words now made perfect sense to this average American.
“God bless America.
Land that I love.
Stand beside her
and guide her
through the night with the light from above.”
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.